Javed Shaheen : An obituary

Javed Shaheen , a great name in modern Urdu poem and progressive literary movement passed away few days back. A lot was written on him, in Pakistani news papers. The BBC noted him as the author of one of the most well read autobiographies and his contribution to modern Urdu poem. A British Marxist Alan Wood , who was a personal friend of Javed Shaheed has written  an obituary for his friend. For an English speaking Welsh , I have found Mr Woods prose to be very intimate , frank and an emotional celebration of a friend’s remarkable life.Its a treat to read.

Shaheryar Ali.

Javed Shaheen (1932-2008) by Alan Woods
Thursday, 30 October 2008

Javed Shaheen at the 2005 congress of The Struggle. Yesterday I heard the sad news of the death of my old friend and comrade Javed Shaheen, who passed away peacefully in his sleep. I have known him for many years and we had formed a close friendship. Javed was a very famous poet. He was one of the pioneers of Progressive writers association of Pakistan.

Javed had a long history in the left movement in the Subcontinent. Before the bloody Partition that separated Pakistan from India, he lived and worked as an actor and poet in Bombay. During his stay in Bombay he was strongly influenced by left intellectuals. When he came back to Lahore he was associated with the Communist Party. He became a Communist and remained a Communist to the end.

Javed had an extraordinary talent as a writer and poet, and he put this great talent at the service of the workers and peasants, the poor and oppressed. To many Europeans it may seem strange that poetry can serve as a revolutionary weapon that can find an echo in the oppressed masses. But there is a long history of revolutionary poetry in the Subcontinent, where ordinary people are moved by a very ancient tradition of oral poetry and song.

Poetry is in the soul of the masses. It resonates with their deepest emotions, hopes and aspirations. I have myself seen workers and peasants, their hands calloused by years of hard labour, moved to tears by recitals of these passionate revolutionary verses. In this field of revolutionary cultural activity, Javed Shaheen was second to one. One of his most famous verses is:

“I am involved in running the factory of the night
It takes a whole night to create a morrow”

Javed often wrote revolutionary poems for the Pakistan Marxist paper “The Class Struggle” (Tabqati jeddojuhd). He wrote special revolutionary poems for the congress of the Marxist tendency in Pakistan. He translated Trotsky’s “My Life” into Urdu with his usual creative flair and it became a best seller. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the International Marxist Tendency and attended the 2000 world congress of the IMT at Barcelona, Spain, where he naturally recited his poems to the delegates with characteristic gusto.

He was a close friend of the celebrated writer and journalist Munoo Bhai. They were as inseparable as a pair of Siamese twins. We often met together during my trips to Lahore to talk at night under the stars on the flat roof of Lal Khan’s house and would spend hours discussing politics, philosophy, religion and poetry. Munoo Bhai and Javed would recite their poems in Urdu, while Lal Khan translated them into English. Then they would ask me to recite Shakespeare in English (although Javed’s favourite was the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas).

Javed was a warm and generous human being who was deeply affected by the suffering of the masses. But he also had a wicked sense of humour and would roar laughing at jokes. He enjoyed a glass of whisky, which he unfortunately used to drown in water in the traditional Pakistan style. The fact that this made his entry into Paradise highly improbable did not appear to trouble him in the slightest. When I think of him now I recall Marx’s favourite motto: “I consider nothing human alien to me.”

Let us take our leave of this remarkable man with his own words, in some of his wonderful verses:

As it dawns

As it dawns
I set out in your pursuit
I find you
In a destitute dwellings
Near its cold hearth
Outside some school
Child deprived of entrance
Wiping off his tears
At times busy in consoling that worker
Who was denied work
And some times I find you
Near the dark houses of shanty towns of slumps
Then both of us together
Ignite the hearth of poor
Get the boys enter school
Find work for the labourer
And in the homes devoid of lamps
Light the lamps.

(Translated by Lal Khan)

First of all

First of all
They amputated the feet of justice
That it could not move
Then its hands, so that it couldn’t
Catch them
At the time of going to court
The tongue of the law was
pulled out
so that it couldn’t testify against
Finally its eyes were extracted.
So that they were not recognised
In the identification parade.
Then with confidence
They put the gallows in the law’s neck
And hung it into the
Blind abyss of time.

(Translated by Lal Khan)

I am going

I am going
in search of love and peace.
Do wait for me.
I will come back.

When I come back
The bird of love will be perched on my shoulder
And the song of peace written on the sails of my boat.

When will I come back?
Nothing can be said with certainty
Maybe it would take me a lifetime, maybe two.
For my convenience
Give me a part of your life.
I assure you I will not waste a moment of it.
I will not stay anywhere more than necessary.
You also make a promise to me.
Whatever I leave in whatever condition
if you could not improve it,
do not let it deteriorate.
All the smoke that hangs in the air
don’t let it become denser.
Whatever poison is there in soil
make sure it does not increase
This is very important
to keep the bird of love alive
and to transfer to every lip the song of peace
written on the sails of my boat.

(Translated by Dr. Afzal Mirza)

I remain very busy

I remain very busy
in spreading a piece of sunlight
over the cold season of the hearts.

In making a river
out of the little wave
that lies on some desolate shore of love.

In bringing closer those good days
that we desire and which are in offing.

In the ruined world
where I spend my times
I remain busy
in making a city of my choice.

The dream
that rests in the realm of my eyes
I remain busy in interpreting it.

(Translated by: Dr. Afzal Mirza)

We send our sincere condolences to all his friends and family. Rest in peace, Javed. We will not see your like again!

London 30th October

Thanks : International Marxist Website


Filed under Pakistan, poetry

3 responses to “Javed Shaheen : An obituary

  1. Pingback: POEMS, POETS, RHYMES AND POETRY » Blog Archive » Javed Shaheen : An obituary

  2. Naveed Abbas

    Remembering Javed Shaheen

    A great poet and a key member of progressive writers association. I would say a poineer.

    The poignant obituary by Alan Woods is truly thought-provoking.

    May his soul rest in peace!

    Naveed Abbas

  3. Pingback: The Pakistani short story in Urdu, and Do You Suppose It’s The East Wind? | BlogHalt.com (Pre-Launch)